Florida Gators wing Scottie Lewis came to Gainesville as a five-star prospect with dreams of ending up in the NBA Draft lottery. After a disappointing 2019-20 season — for him and for the Gators — ended prematurely, the talented freshman had a decision to make on his future.
On Monday, he made it, announcing his intentions to eschew the 2020 NBA Draft process entirely with a tweet headlined by the same two words Michael Jordan once used — albeit ones spelled a bit differently.
Lewis’s message mentions “unfinished business” and says that he is “more than happy” to return to Gainesville for a sophomore season, but it’s fair to note that his NBA Draft stock had slipped considerably after a year in which he took a long time to assert himself offensively. Lewis was still, apparently, a lock to get drafted, telling Stadium’s Jeff Goodman the feedback he received from the NBA’s advisory committed indicated as much — but that he was thought of as a player with a wide range of outcomes.
And with many of the regular pre-draft exercises like the NBA Scouting Combine likely to be altered or cancelled outright by concerns over coronavirus, taking himself out of the pool and focusing on preparing for a second year as a Gator may be discretion that is the better part of valor.
To be fair, though: Lewis was improving as a player by season’s end in Gainesville. While he scored in double figures in just three non-conference games, he began SEC play by doing that in Florida’s first three games; though he would go three weeks between each of his next two double-figure nights, he also finished the year with three such outings in four games, notching career-highs in points against LSU (18) and Kentucky (19).
And when Lewis asserted himself as an eager driver and finisher, something he was touted to be but did not show often early in his freshman year, he was excellent offensively: In four SEC games in which he got at least six free throws, he averaged over 15 points per game, making 28 of 30 attempts at the line. Combine that with his pesky, athletic, and long-limbed defense, which created steals and highlight blocks, and he was never really worse than an average SEC starter.
It’s just that the other stuff with Lewis — the tendencies to float around the three-point line and hoist high-arcing threes that didn’t start falling consistently until SEC play and to play aggressive defense that often amounted to gambling in individual man-to-man situations — that marked him as a freshman and an unfinished product rather than a polished player ready for the professional ranks. It will be incumbent on Lewis, Mike White, and White’s staff to improve his skills as a dribbler and feel for creating for himself off the bounce if he is to become what he could be as a wing scorer, and it will be important for Lewis himself to buy into playing great individual defense within a team concept.
The quotes Lewis gave Goodman are certainly promising in that regard.
“I put the season we had on my shoulders,” Lewis said. “I came in with a big head. I wasn’t promised anything, but I expected a lot. It didn’t just hurt me, but it hurt our team. It took me a while, but I learned how to be coachable and I thought it showed with how well the team was playing towards the end of the season.”
“There’s so much more I think I can show, that we can show as a team,” Lewis said. “I want to leave a legacy at Florida.”
“I want to finish what I started after not being able to play in the postseason,” he said. “I want to get Florida back to the Final Four and also have a chance to put myself at the top of next year’s draft.”
Of course, this all assumes a world in which it is safe and responsible to hold sporting events — maybe with or without spectators — come the start of the 2020-21 college basketball season, something that is hard to confidently predict in the midst of the pandemic of coronavirus.
Lewis, obviously, is hopeful that such a season will take place. His return gives fans a bit more reason to hope the same.